Pecan is one of the most popular smoking woods. It has a distinctive sweet and nutty flavor that works well with most types of meat, and it can be combined with other woods to great effect. Read on to learn more about the best ways to use pecan wood for smoking.
Pecan Wood For Smoking
Pecan wood gives smoked foods a sweet, nutty flavor that’s slightly spicy, with medium intensity. It’s not as mild as fruit woods like apple, but it doesn’t overpower the food the way mesquite can, either. Pair it with poultry and pork, or mix it with oak when smoking beef brisket.
About Pecan Wood
Some types of wood, such as mesquite and hickory, are too bold for many people’s palates. If you use them to excess, they can make the food taste bitter and nasty, which is obviously not what you’re going for when you fire up the smoker.
In terms of intensity, pecan falls in the middle of the smoking-wood spectrum. While its spicy-sweet flavor is certainly noticeable, it’s not going to overwhelm your ingredients. In fact, it’s even mild enough to be used for cold smoking ingredients like cheese.
The wood of the pecan tree burns quickly, but it doesn’t retain heat as well as some other woods like oak. Keep this in mind when deciding whether to use it alone or with another wood type (see below).
If you’re worried about whether pecan wood is safe to use in the smoker, set your mind at ease. Pecan is a hardwood, so it doesn’t pose any risks. It’s the softwoods like pine that you need to worry about—those contain resins that can be toxic when consumed.
In fact, pecan also makes great firewood. Although it doesn’t give off a great deal of heat, it leaves behind only a small amount of ash. Plus, the smoke that it produces smells fantastic—which is one of the reasons why we love to use it in the smoker.
The Intensity Scale
Mild woods for smoking include fruit woods like pear, apple, and cherry. Alder is another example. These give off a clean, sweet flavor that takes a backseat to the meat’s natural qualities. They’re a good fit for fish and lighter meats like poultry.
In addition to pecan, woods like oak and maple are not too mild yet not too bold. You can use them to smoke anything from poultry to beef to game meats, mixing them with other types if desired (see below).
Hickory, walnut, and mesquite sit at the top of the intensity ladder. Mesquite in particular is so strong that it should only be used with beef and robust game meats like venison and elk.
What Woods Mix Best With Pecan?
Since oak has better heat retention than pecan wood, these two are natural partners. Oak is also more robust in terms of flavor, so it will lend backbone to the smoky goodness of your ingredients.
You can also mix pecan with fruit woods such as cherry, peach, pear, mulberry, or apple. Your results will be on the sweeter side, but that can be nice, especially when smoking poultry products or pork ribs.
Those of you who want a stronger smoke flavor can add a handful or two of hickory wood to the mix. This wood gives off a rich, bacon-like taste that can be too intense on its own, but the mellow pecan should help to balance it out.
Best Meats To Smoke With Pecan Wood
As we mentioned, pecan is excellent with poultry products. Pecan-smoked chicken thighs make an amazing meal, especially once the summer shades into fall. This is also a great option when you’re smoking whole chickens or turkeys.
The natural sweetness of pork plays well with the slightly spicy notes that the pecan wood offers. We like to pair it with spare ribs, especially when mixed with hickory or apple wood.
Pecan isn’t too mild for hearty cuts like beef brisket, especially since the meat will require many hours of exposure to the smoke. If you find that the smoky taste is too mellow for you, add in some oak or mesquite as well.
Smoking With Pecan Wood
The first thing you need to decide is what type of wood to buy. Yes, you may have decided on pecan, but wood for smoking comes in several different forms.
Those of you who work exclusively with pellet-fueled smokers have no choice in the matter. These units won’t work with any type of fuel but pellets. Fortunately, pecan wood is readily available in pellet form.
One of the most appealing aspects of the pellet grill is its user-friendly nature. You just add the pellets to the hopper, fire up the unit, and wait for it to achieve the set temperature. Some of them have issues with heat retention, but the better models are able to maintain a set temp for long periods.
What if you have a gas or electric grill? In this case, you can choose from wood chips or wood chunks. We think the chips are more convenient for these smoker types, but as long as the chunks fit in the firebox, they shouldn’t pose an issue.
Charcoal grills offer the most versatility. Wood chips give off short bursts of intensely flavored smoke, while the chunks burn longer and keep the temperature stable. You can use either one on a charcoal-fired grill or smoker.
To cook with wood chips or chunks in an electric or gas grill, use a foil packet or the included smokebox. Place the wood over direct heat and wait for it to begin smoking, them move it over to the cooler side of the unit while you cook the food.
It’s also possible to burn wood pellets in a charcoal grill. You shouldn’t rely on them as the main fuel source—that’s the charcoal’s job—but you can add them to the coals to provide flavor.
With charcoal grills, wait for the coals to be ready, then set the wood directly on top of the coal bed. You might want to set up a fuse system if you expect the cooking process to take longer than 6 hours or so.
To Soak or Not to Soak?
Should you soak your pecan wood chips or chunks before using them? While some pitmasters are big fans of the technique, we prefer to skip this step.
Wet wood doesn’t burn as efficiently as dry wood. Instead, it creates steam. Proponents of the soaking method claim that this results in more flavorful vapor, but we think it’s best to let the wood ignite right away.
It also takes a long time for the moisture to seep into the wood. You should wait for several hours before using the soaked wood if you want the step to have any effect. Since it takes so long to smoke meat anyway, we don’t believe it’s worth the effort.
When you use pecan wood for smoking, you’ll be rewarded with uniquely delicious flavors. The smoke it produces is rich and faintly exotic, with warm and spicy undertones.
Pick up some pecan wood the next time you’re experimenting with smoked poultry. Once you’ve tried it with chicken—especially dark meat—you’re bound to become a fan.